It’s Kobe Bryant vs. Paul Pierce for all the marbles. It’s the 2008 NBA Champions vs. the 2009 NBA Champions. It is a matchup between the two most successful franchises in NBA history, the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers.
It was two short years ago when these teams met last in the finals, a series Boston won in six games. In that series Kobe Bryant was putting up the points while Pau Gasol was working the boards for the Lakers while Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were the stars for the Celtics in their winning effort.
All four men are back this season and all four are coming into this series on fire. Who are the players to watch in the important opening contest between two teams who have won 33 of the league’s 64 titles?
Kobe Bryant went into the Western Conference Finals wanting to prove he had the heart of a champion and he came out with the best numbers of anyone playing in the finals. Bryant averaged 29.4 PPG during the playoffs and has been the leader the Lakers needed him to be. If there was any question about Bryant’s heart, you only need to look at his 37-point performance in the series clinching finale against the Phoenix Suns.
Rajon Rondo was a strong component in 2008 Championship but this year he is not the unknown he was in that series. While he is not technically considered part of the Big 3 (Pearce, Garnett, Ray Allen), he has outplayed both Garnett and Allen throughout the playoffs. Scoring 16.7 PPG, his average of 10 assists per-game leads both squads. His maturation is what has helped the Celtics make it to this point despite the aging Big 3.
Pau Gasol has made great strides this postseason and has, on a number of occasions, been the reason the Lakers have made it to the finals. He is averaging a double-double in the postseason, with 20.0 PPG and 10.0 RPG. With his clutch shooting and hard play, he has become someone opposing defenses has to pay attention to, opening up more opportunities for Bryant to get his shots.
Paul Pearce has gotten older and slowed down a little but is still a dangerous player. Pearce leads the Celtics in scoring, but his numbers (19.1 PPG) are lower than both Bryant and Gasol. The Celtics possessed a deeper unit coming into the postseason but the Lakers had a welcome surprise with the revitalized play of Ron Artest. With Artest lighting up the boards in the series finale against the Suns (25 pts), it is up to Pearce to step up his game to keep the Celtics close.
Final Prediction: The Celtics come into the finals on a roll but the Lakers are playing at a level above and beyond anyone else right now. While the series will go to at least six games, the Lakers are playing too well right now as a team to fall at home in game one. The Lakers will win this game but the Celtics will keep things interesting down the line.
Boston Celtics – NBA at CBSSports.com
Los Angeles Lakers – NBA at CBSSports.com